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Posted March 23, 2004
For close to forty years, the influx of immigrants from Italy and the Jewish sections of eastern Europe and Russia would both overwhelm and help build America's greatest city, and then America itself. They would bring with them tasty foods, progresssive ideas, unlimited manpower, and new words for American English. Most popular accounts of the great immigration, before Professor Kessner's book, THE GOLDEN DOOR, stopped at that point, as if there were no distinguishing the causes and effects for these two groups embarking on such a trek. THE GOLDEN DOOR reveals the catalysts, unique to each group, for contributing to the greatest exodus of human beings from one continent to another in all history. The Italians (southern Italians mostly) were victims of criminal real estate deals, outmoded means of crop production, and increasing competition from other nations for garlic, olive, wine, and tomato sales. And, yet, according to Professor Kessner's tireless research, many Italians would return to their homeland periodically, to hand over the cash they earned in New York to their families and do some day-labor work in Italy when the New York job market cooled down. For this reason, Italians did not assimilate to American culture very quickly, and did not feel it imperative to learn English. The Jews, on the other hand, were escaping escalating, violent anti-Semetic movements in much of Eastern Europe. Murders, organized riots, and attacks on Jews (pogroms) became more furious and frequent in the last years of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. Therefore, the Jews had to assimilate, they had to learn English, they had to embrace America because they had no homes to return to in the old country. From these seemingly simple scenarios, and a close scrutiny of other important data, Professor Kessner proceeds to extrapolate an astounding insight into a generation of new Americans and their experiences in New York. This is a remarkable, unprecedented, and unsurpassed study into this important time in US history. It ought to be mandatory reading for any student of American history, urban studies, and/or general social sciences. And for New Yorkers and the descendants of these immigrants, it will shed light onto the development of your own family and, ultimately, yourself. I recommend this book highly.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.